Wednesday, September 29, 2010

About Innocence

As nice as my co-workers are, sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's just a facade from some of them. It's expected in a workplace located in a foreign country where the people around you all speak a different language.

Sometimes I witness whispering, giggling, and gossiping in the staff room at both of my schools. Sometimes I know it's about someone else, but sometimes I suspect it's about me. Today I had a staff meeting at one of my schools that lasted until 5:00, which is an hour after I usually go home. It was my first meeting after the new school term started, so the procedure was a little new to me. I thought the meeting might have lasted until 4:00, but I was prepared to stay longer and didn't mind doing so.

No one told me it was okay to leave at my usual time. Since I was expected to attend, I figured that I was supposed to stay for the entire meeting. When the meeting finished around 4:50, we returned from the conference room and I got some last minute work done and got ready to go. I said my usual farewell, but heard giggles from some people as I was leaving. This happened before when I said "itte kimasu" (I'll be back) when leaving after the sports festival, since I had to ride my bike back home and wait for a ride. When I heard the giggles, I wondered if I had done or said something strange. All I said today was "Otsukaresama desu, osaki ni shitsurei shimasu" (roughly translated as "good work, please excuse me for leaving ahead of you"), like I do everyday. I don't know if the giggling was about something else or directed at my remark, but I smiled and kept walking.

As I was about to leave, one of the teachers ran after me and explained to me that the meeting lasted until five, but that it was okay for me to leave at four. Well it's no use telling me that AFTER the meeting has ended! I was going to explain that I decided to stay until the end regardless of the time, but she ran off again. I walked out of the building frustrated and annoyed, wondering if I was right about the giggling.

It's things like this that make me question who's being sincere to me and who isn't. It's so frustrating when one day I'm having a good time with them, and then the next day I feel like I'm being ridiculed. But that's what encourages me to focus more on the students.

The children (at least the majority of them) like me no matter what. Even though I can't understand what they're saying, even though my skin is darker than theirs, even though my hair is sometimes wild and curly, they still like me, and there's no question about it. Some students will call my name as if they have something to say, and when I say "Yes?" they just look at me and smile. They like to hug me and hold my hand and talk to me, and even the simplest things I say fascinate them.

Unfortunately, it only lasts for a short time until they grow up and get exposed to the wonderful mess that we call "the media," that dictates to them what's desirable, what they should look like, and what they should be looking for when it comes to beauty and acceptance. Curiosity and fascination about people from other countries becomes a matter of "us versus them." And it seems only natural to gossip, of which many if not all of us are guilty. Sure, there's the occasional bullying and the naive declarations of the "strangeness" about a person, but they don't know any better, and so we correct them.

So I tell myself that no matter how much I may embarrass myself in front of the teachers, or what I may misunderstand, I won't give up because it's not about them. It's about the kids. In a country that's constantly glorifying white skin, blond hair and non-brown eyes in the media, the world of Japanese children is one of non-discrimination and acceptance.

Maybe I'm making too much out of something that may not be such a big deal, but I may never know.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Substitute Teachers

Today I found out that one of the classes was going to be looked after by a substitute teacher. It just so happened to be one of the fourth grade classes ...the talkative one.

Of course, anyone who went to school would remember the feeling of having a substitute teacher. Regardless of whether your regular homeroom teacher was mean or nice, there was always a feeling of excitement and curiosity among some students about who the substitute teacher would be, if they're a new substitute or one with a reputation, a man or a woman, young or old, etc.

I don't know how Class 4-2 acted earlier in the day, but when it came time for me to make my classroom visit for English, I was wondering what would happen. Their homeroom teacher is a nice and outgoing guy but, for lack of better words, he can't control his class. He's a first-year so I guess I can understand.

So could it be any worse with a substitute teacher there? Honestly, no. I don't think it would have made a difference at all. The substitute was a young woman, probably around my age and about an inch shorter than me. I was expecting the kids to be having a field day climbing on desks and yelling or something, but it was only as hectic as it is when their regular teacher is there. As I expected, the lesson plan that goes so smoothly in Class 4-1 couldn't even be finished in Class 4-2.

By the end of class, the substitute bowed to me and said "Sorry," because she knew how difficult it was to get the kids to pay attention. I was about to say that it always happens, but instead I just said "It's okay," and smiled.

Despite how hectic everything was, one student particularly enjoyed the lesson. "English class was really fun today!" she told me in Japanese, which made me feel much better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Apartment Video Uploaded!

I finally made a short clip of my apartment. I actually uploaded it on Thursday, but I had to wait for the video to process before I could pick some background music. I had commentary but realized that I could make the video much shorter if I just recorded without it. It's pretty straightforward, but if you have any questions about it or the neighborhood feel free to ask!

Daily Life as a Gaijin, Episode 7: My Apartment

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Big Shopping Blog Post

I've been meaning to post photos of what I buy in Japan since I got here, but haven't gotten around to it. I figured it would be better to post these now or else I'll have hundreds of photos waiting on my hard drive.

Let's start with food and drinks.

If you can't read Japanese, it says, "It's Ramune." Ramune is basically soda, like Sprite. I found this 6-pack at the drug store and thought it was pretty cute.

It's amazing what you can find at a discounted price just because it's one day older than everything else on the shelf. With three slices at an original price of 298 yen (about $3.50), this is actually a good deal because cakes like this in Japan can be pretty expensive.

Do you know what Chu-Hi is? Think of it as alcoholic soda, with low alcohol content (usually around 3 to 6 percent). I'm not a fan of beer, so Chu-Hi is what I usually buy at the grocery store. They come in all kinds of flavors like apple, peach, grape, and lemon. This one happens to be Ramune Chu-Hi, which I'm sure my ramune-loving friends would like.

Next are some house items:

My new 2-way hair iron (flat + curling) bought from Sofmap in Kobe at 4,980 yen. I had a choice between pink and white...of course I got the pink one!

An artbook for the manga 'X' (or X/1999) by CLAMP. The manga was never completed for a variety of reasons. I hope they finish one day because it was a really interesting story. I bought this for 105 yen (no joke) at BOOK-OFF.

Glass picture frames with a beautiful black and red design. They were 100 yen each at Daiso.

On the left is a figure of Lady Oscar from one of my favorite manga/anime, The Rose of Versailles (a classic girls'/women's series from the '70s). Next to it is a silk flower arrangement that I want to be the base for my interior decorating. In front is a picture frame that matches the ones from before, carrying a picture of my family :)

Now onto clothing and accessories:

A sleeveless long vest (front and back) and a blazer bought from a shop in Sannomiya for about 1500 yen each. The vest is a little big around the waist so I plan to fix it whenever I get the chance (probably not anytime soon; sewing machines are really expensive here).

Lots of tights (ranging from 300 to 520 yen). The second picture is of possibly the most awesome pair of tights I've ever bought.

I bought these from an accessory shop at Saty a few weeks ago. I don't remember exactly how much each item cost, but the total was a little under 2000 yen (about $24), I think.

Some more major items. The bag (by annji, 3,980 yen) is from Saty. It came out as part of the Autumn 2010 collection soon after I arrived in Japan. I had been looking at this bag every time I visited Saty for about 3 weeks, and I finally decided to buy it yesterday after failing to find a bag that I liked more. The bag charm (left; by d'Angelo, 2,990 yen) and train pass case (right; by d'Angelo, 1,990 yen) were purchased in Sannomiya at an upscale department store called Marui.

These two Daisy by Marc Jacobs pouches actually came as a gift with a Japanese magazine called InRed. In Japan there are all kinds of women's magazines that come with free items (which I imagine keeps them in business, because I sure don't read the magazine). I found out after I bought the magazine that InRed is actually targeted towards women in their 30s...doesn't matter to me, I just wanted the pouches. The magazine costs 750 yen, which is a little on the higher end of magazine prices. I use the larger pouch to hold my hanko (name stamp used the same way we write a signature) and account book for my bank account. The smaller one I use for holding wrapped candy.

My collection of flower hair clips/brooches. All of them were bought in Japan but four of them were bought during my previous stay in Tokyo. The prices range from 100 yen to 840 yen.

A keychain from Claire's, 540 yen before a 50% discount. I haven't figured out what I'll do with it yet.

A collection of charms for my camera. the one furthest on the left was 399 yen. The others (excluding the heart and the long chain, those were random items I already had) were 100 yen each.

The three from the left are recent items. The strap (shown in a previous picture) was 315 yen. The cross actually came from a necklace I bought in Sannomiya for 899 yen. The third one was 70% off from around 300 yen at Claire's in Kobe. The fourth I bought about two years ago from a concert, for about 1800 yen.

Last but not least, a cell phone charm I ordered from Rakuten for 1500 yen, which just came in today.

I can't believe how long it took me to write up this post...maybe two hours? But I was watching TV at the same time so that distracted me. I'll post pictures sooner next time.

The apartment video has been re-recorded and will be up soon. I actually have tomorrow (Thursday) off because of another holiday, so I'll use that time to put the clips together.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kishi Sports Festival

On Saturday I attended the Sports Festival at Kishi. The festival is a huge event at Japanese schools, not only for the kids but for the community. Maybe it's because it was so long ago but I can barely remember having such an event that was as big when I was in elementary school. We did have a Field Day of sorts, but there wasn't nearly as much preparation involved.

At the sports festivals here in Japan, the staff and the kids work really hard to practice and set everything up. The days spent outside can be so hot and long that there have been cases of children becoming dehydrated and getting heat stroke. This summer was especially hot so we had to be very careful.

So what did the kids do at the Sports Festival? Not "sports," actually, though there was a parade featuring the soccer, baseball, and volleyball clubs. In Japanese it's called an "undoukai," and "undou" actually means "exercise" or "athletics." The kids were divided into two teams--red and white--and participated in a series of games and races. Sometimes even the parents and grandparents would participate as well.

The morning of the festival, I found out I was going to be in a relay race. I was on the team with some of the other staff. We had to do various things during the race, like carrying a ball in a ladle while running, spinning around on a bat 10 times, or running halfway and then skipping rope to get to the checkpoint. I was the one who had to jump rope, which was easy enough for me since I've done it a million times when I was in school. Our team actually ended up winning too, which was great. The kids and other teachers complimented me on how fast I can run, which is probably the extent of my athletic ability since I didn't play sports when I was younger.

The score ended up being tied between the red and white teams. I'm not sure if they did that on purpose or if it actually did happen that way. It was a good way to end my first sports festival, though. Afterward I went out with the staff and some of the PTA to dinner. I enjoyed it but I felt a little uncomfortable being the only gaijin surrounded by a whole bunch of Japanese people. Nonetheless, I still decided to join some of the others who wanted to go to the snack bar after dinner was over. Most of the younger and more outgoing teachers went, which made it really fun, even more enjoyable than the first time I went. I think the mama-san there has taken a liking to me, she's really nice and she always cheers me on when it's my turn to sing karaoke. I don't know when the next big event is, but I hope it's soon. I really love hanging out with the teachers outside of work because they're really different from how they are at school.

So now I'm enjoying the rest of my weekend, cleaning the apartment and thinking about where I want to go today and/or tomorrow. I get my next paycheck tomorrow, so I'll be buying a thing or two from my wish list :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Goodbye Food!"

Today I ate with one of the 6th grade classes at Ichiba. In Japanese elementary schools, the kids eat in the classroom, instead of going to a cafeteria or multipurpose room like we do in the states. They also all eat the school lunch, which is usually the case in the States except for a few kids who always brought a lunch from home (like I did). Before and after the meal, one or two students will lead the class in saying a "greeting."

For those of you who don't know, in Japan the custom for meals is to recite set phrases before and after eating. Before a meal, you would say "Itadakimasu" which is literally the humble form of saying, "I will eat" or "I will receive." After a meal, the phrase is "Gochisousama deshita" which literally means "[That] was an honorable feast" or better translated as "Thank you for the food." For both phrases, you would put your hands together as if about to say a prayer. Note that it's not the exact equivalent of a prayer, so if you follow a particular religion and you're about to have a meal in Japan, saying "itadakimasu" and "gochisousama deshita" is not committing an offense against your faith.

In the U.S. we don't have universal phrases for mealtime because each family is different. My family is Christian, so we would say a prayer before eating, but we didn't say anything after the meal except for "excuse me" when we're about to leave the table. When my mom cooked for us I usually said "Thank you" afterward.

When they asked me about "itadakimasu," I explained that we didn't really have such a phrase in English and that it's okay to say, "Let's eat." But when they asked me about after the meal, I couldn't think of an equivalent nor any phrase that would be easy for Japanese elementary school students to say (I hadn't thought of "Thank you for the food" at the time). So I told the class that we didn't really have a phrase.

So what did the lead student say when we clapped our hands together after the meal?

"Goodbye food!"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eigo Salon

Once a month at Ichiba Elementary, I teach a class called "Eigo Salon." Some of the 1st and 2nd graders (and even older) come to the English classroom along with some of the kids' parents (usually mothers). We do some activities and learn vocabulary which is different from my regular classroom curriculum.

My first session was yesterday. There were about 5 or 6 mothers and about 20 kids there. I didn't have much of a clue of what I was doing but fortunately my supervisor helped out. I was thinking it would be easy since I would be teaching adults as well, but it was actually a little chaotic. I think it's because the little ones think of Eigo Salon as an after-school activity. We ended up starting late and finishing 15 minutes overtime, but everyone looked like they were having fun, especially two of the boys that were being told all of the answers by their mothers, lol.

I've got a few pictures to put up but I've been tired lately. I'm at Kishi Elementary today which means no English classroom where I can take a nap.

Just one more week until my next paycheck ^_^ The XBox 360 is on the top of my list. I have quite a few expensive items on that list (by "expensive" I mean above $100) so I decided that I would buy one of them each month, maybe two if I can manage. I might get a Japanese-English electronic dictionary soon as well, because breaking out the Nintendo DS during class is a bit unprofessional. I'm also planning to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) next year, so I want to prepare early.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"What's Shibuya?"

During recess today two 3rd graders came into the English classroom. I wasn't doing anything important, just sitting there looking over some stuff. They came in and saw my iPod Touch (which is very popular with the kids) and so I showed them some of the pictures I had on it.

(in Japanese)
Me: "Oh, and here's Shibuya."
Student A: Shibuya?
Student B: "Eh, what's Shibuya?"
Student A: "It's that place with all the gyaru."

I didn't know what was cuter, the fact that B didn't know what Shibuya was or A's answer about all the gyaru.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Not everyone in Japan will like you.

Which is the case anywhere you go, really.

At each school, there is a staff member that the other ALTs and I call the "tea lady." In Japanese they're called the 校務員, but since one of their duties is to serve tea and drinks to the other staff, we call them "tea ladies."

Strangely enough, the tea ladies at each of my schools are pretty opposite of each other. They're both about the same age I think (maybe their 60s). One of them is the sweetest lady I've ever met and doesn't complain about a thing. The other one is one of the rudest (probably THE rudest) Japanese person I've ever met. There's a long background story that I won't go into, but for some reason she simply doesn't like me, despite that I've never done a single bad thing to her. When she serves drinks to the other staff, she won't give me anything. Yesterday was a little different though: She actually did give me a drink, but there was no ice in it, though I could clearly see that the other staff had ice in theirs. Not to mention that she kind of shoved the drink on my desk and walked away.

This, however, does not bother me too much. It's annoying, but here's how I see it:

1. I have no problem getting my own drinks. In fact, I bring my own bottle of Aquarius to drink after my biking commute anyway. If I need something else, I'll get it myself in the kitchen.

2. With the amount of money I make, I don't mind putting up with one rude staff member in an entire school three days a week.

3. I'm willing to bet that the children like me more.

On top of that, I actually find her behavior quite entertaining. It gives me something to talk about, and the other ALTs that have dealt with her know exactly what I'm talking about.

You can't expect everyone to like you when working anywhere, especially overseas. It can be especially difficult when that person has been working there longer than you have. Just don't let it bother you too much, because you quitting is probably what they want.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Finally got some clothes.

This weekend I had thought about going to Osaka to look for some used clothing stores. When I lived in Tokyo I would visit Kinji in Harajuku, and looking at their website I learned that a lot of their shops are in Osaka. In the end I didn't want to spend all that money traveling and suffering from the summer heat (we've been hitting record temperatures in the past few weeks) so I just decided to pick up some supplies and houseware.

I learned that right across the street from Saty is a "Joyful," which sells all kinds of houseware. But downstairs and in the back is a combined 100 yen store and grocery store. Now of course there's a Daiso next to MaxValu and on the third floor of Saty, but this 100 yen shop is a CAN☆DO (キャン・ドウ, pronounced "can doh"), which I personally prefer over Daiso. When I was in Tokyo I learned about three different 100 yen stores: CAN☆DO, Daiso, and シルク (shiruku). All of them have their pros and cons, so I went to different ones for different things. Daiso has large-sized bath towels, but they're actually 210 yen (not everything at Daiso is 100 yen). CAN☆DO has towels that are just as large for only 100 yen. They also have 100 yen hair wax, which I use to smooth down my hair.

Even though I didn't go to Osaka, I still managed to find some clothes. A lot of clothes, actually. At Saty there's a used goods shop that sells clothing, jewelry and designer handbags. They were having a summer clearance so I decided to go in and see if I would find anything, and I ended up buying at least 7 tops. Unfortunately I couldn't find any skirts or pants. I usually don't even bother with the pants because most of them are too small for me; they don't really accommodate for small waists and large hips. But here's one awesome top I bought that I plan to wear in the fall:

I wouldn't wear this to work of course, but I did find some school-appropriate clothes so I don't have to keep cycling through the same stuff each week.

I noticed that I didn't upload Part 2 of Episode 4 in my YouTube video series, so I posted that along with Episode 5. Can't wait to get internet on Wednesday!

Food for today:

Veggies, tofu, bulgogi and rice

Friday, September 3, 2010

Great questions from Elementary School Students.

Today was my second day of classes, and (fortunately) my last for the week. Teaching is difficult, but for me the planning is even more difficult.

Anyway, I let the kids ask me some questions (mostly in Japanese) after I introduced myself, and here were some of the cute ones:

"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"What's your favorite shape?"
"What time is it in America right now?"
"How is American money different from Japanese money?"

The last one surprised me the most. I had a hard time figuring out how to explain the differences, but I think they got it. The "favorite shape" was adorable, and so was the little girl that asked ^_^ For some reason I always like to be asked if I have a boyfriend, even though the answer is no.

I'm so glad it's the weekend. I'm exhausted.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First Day of Teaching

I just finished my first two classes of the morning, both 6th grade. I was really nervous but I think things went pretty well for the first day. The kids really loved my pictures of the family and my hobbies, and the quiz as well. I’m probably most excited about the fact that some of my kids know about Dynasty Warriors/Shin Sangoku Musou.

I’m still anxious for internet at my apartment. The router is supposed to come in soon, but I still have to wait until next Wednesday for the connection. I haven’t decided what I want to do this weekend, but I definitely need more clothes. Maybe I’ll venture to Osaka if I’m not too exhausted by the end of the week.

Fruit bowl with melon, nata de coco, white peaches, mandarin oranges, and pineapple. Just looking at it makes me hungry.